During the awards evening on May 25, as the prizes were awarded – and in Cannes when a prize is awarded to a film, it must be satisfied with it, because it is forbidden to cumulate them – , we ended up wondering if 2019 would be the year of the first Palme awarded by right to a director. As a reminder, in 1994, Jane Campion shared hers with Chen Kaige. All that remained to be awarded was the Grand Prix and the Palme d’Or. All the films represented on the seats of the Grand Théâtre Lumière, by their authors or their interpreters, had been rewarded, with the exception of those of the Franco-Senegalese Mati Diop and the Korean Bong Joon-ho.
Finally the 72e edition will remain like the one that saw a Korean filmmaker win the supreme award for the first time. The jury chaired by Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu awarded the Palme d’Or to Parasite, the seventh feature film by Bong Joon-ho, a film of terror and ruthless dissection of Korean society. And Mati Diop received the Grand Prix, second trophy in the Cannes hierarchy, for Atlantic, a prize which, in the past, has rewarded – as pointed out by Michael Moore, who presented it – Ingmar Bergman or Joseph Mankiewicz.
The director of babel and his jurors (Kelly Reichardt, Alice Rohrwacher, Maimouna N’Diaye, Robin Campillo, Yorgos Lanthimos, Elle Fanning, Pawel Pawlikowski and Enki Bilal) respected the intentions of Thierry Frémaux, general delegate of the Festival, and his selectors, who had builds an assembly of sure values (Pedro Almodovar, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, Ken Loach, Quentin Tarantino, Marco Bellocchio…) and new talents. In the first category, Young Ahmad, of the Dardenne brothers (Directing Award), pain and glory, by Pedro Almodovar (Best Actor Award for Antonio Banderas) or It Must Be Heaven by Elia Suleiman (Special Mention) were honored.
“The Round of Eyes”
Almost all of the other rewards went to newcomers to the competition. Out of eight filmmakers who had never taken part, four were singled out: Mati Diop, already mentioned, Jessica Hausner (Best Actor Award to Emily Beecham for Little Joe), Céline Sciamma (Screenplay Prize for Portrait of the girl on fire), and Ladj Ly (Jury Prize for Wretched, shared with Bacura by Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles).
It’s easier to build an all-encompassing chart in lean years when a handful of films stand out. For this 72e edition, Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu and his comrades were forced to commit injustices: once again depriving Pedro Almodovar of the Palme d’Or, ignoring The traitor, by Marco Bellocchio, thus leaving the Italian filmmaker empty-handed, as he has always returned from Cannes, to act as if the staging prodigies of Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood did not exist (whatever one thinks of the substance of the film), as if Xavier Dolan had not ended up with Matthias and Maxime.
The awards themselves can spark debate. On receiving her prize, Céline Sciamma said with a tiny hint of bitterness that it came at a time when she was thinking of giving up her career as a screenwriter (and it is true that the enthusiasm of the critics, particularly Anglo-Saxon, could make him hope for better) and celebrated “the circle of eyes” which makes a film a collective work. Antonio Banderas received his trophy “in his own name and that of his character, who is called Salvador Mallo and who, it is no secret, is Pedro Almodovar”.
An additional year’s probation
The fact remains that, reflecting all the films in competition, the prize list gives a fairly complete picture of cinema as it exists, outside or on the margins of the multinationals – studios or platforms – which govern it. The same jury, the same film buyers, the same journalists, the same cinephiles have seen the enormous production of Quentin Tarantino, shot and projected on 35 mm film with the millions of dollars of a studio (Sony), by the grace the unique status of its author (a director who is also a Hollywood star) and Atlantic, produced digitally in Dakar with fifty times less resources. The Festival granted an additional year of reprieve to the fiction of the unity of cinema, from mass entertainment to experimentation.
It was all the more easily believed in that the films presented in competition this year cultivated the same themes, whatever their geographical origin, their aesthetic filiation. In the futuristic London laboratories of Little Joe as in Thiaroye, a suburb of Dakar where Atlantic, humans are possessed by forces that emanate from the misfortunes of the planet. In the small village in the Brazilian northeast of Bacura as in the Korean megalopolis of Parasite, disputes and differences (of class, culture, etc.) turn into violent confrontations. This portrait of the world does not encourage optimism, and the speakers at this closing ceremony in Cannes have multiplied their warnings: against the decay of democracy (the president of the jury), the ravages of misery on the body social (Ladj Ly), contempt for artists and creators (Kleber Mendonça Filho).
Nobody mentioned the dangers that threaten the cinema – the censorship which weighs more and more heavily, in Russia, in China and elsewhere, the disappearance on immense territories of the rooms which show something other than consumer products, the growing weight of forms of distribution which deprive the cinema of its collective dimension. But everyone was thinking about it, and we will have to talk about them, face them, next year or the year after.
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Cannes Film Festival 2019: the Palme d’Or goes to “Parasite”, the Grand Prix to “Atlantic”